How Culture Influences Personality and Gender Roles


Living in a globalized world where every aspect of life seems to be rationally founded and established there are still subliminal influences existing that create a deeper impact on people’s behaviour than one might expect. Several studies tried to examine the origins of different gender roles and personalities that make each human being unique. Even though the origin of individual personality is still controversial, one major impact seems to be the culture in which individuals are embedded.

Hofstede (2011, p. 3) claims that societal, gender and national cultures are more deeply rooted in human minds than occupational cultures which are learned at school or at work. These deeper rooted cultures are particularly acquired in the earliest years of life. Costa and McCrae (1992) examine a correlation from five personality dimension to country norms and to national dimension culture scores, based on a panel including 30 countries. The main finding is that culture and personality are linked. However, these relationships should not be used to stereotype the individual by only using culture scores becuase each individual grows up with unique events.

One question remains: What is culture?

Hofstede’s (2011, p. 3) definition claims that “[c]ulture is the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from others.” Still, does this definition really capture the whole meaning of culture? It is quite difficult to compress culture into a single definition. Culture impacts many if not all aspects of life which makes definitions so vague and incomplete. Above all, one aspect is possibly indisputable: Culture influences personality.

One important and intuitive aspect impacting personality is how gender roles are defined in national culture. Gender roles are associated with a certain position within a household that frames different patterns of decision processes, for instance decisions regarding education. Women often have lower bargaining positions within the household for several reasons. One major aspect is that women have fewer opportunities in the labour market which is in particular true in developing countries (Duflo, 2011, p. 9). Another aspect is that in many cultures girls are associated with additional costs such as the bride’s dowry. These different expectations lead to different behaviour shown within the household towards boys and girls, for example regarding their health care. In poor families in New Delhi a study by Khanna, Kumar, Vaghela, Sreenivas and Puliyel (2003) shows that girls are twice as likely to die from diarrhoea. Furthermore, it shows that girl’s overall health level is worse compared to boy’s concerning marginalized families. Naturally, this unequal treatment also affects their personalities from their earliest years onwards to a large extent.

Changes in fertility and its timing are possible indicators for changed culture and its impact on personality. Different studies show that when education become more important in modern labour markets, women become less frequently and at a higher age pregnant. One reason is that economic development provides more jobs suitable for women. This can be observed in Saudi-Arabia where women are supported in their education for an office job where they do not have (much) contact to men but can still be a productive factor in the economy (Halligan, 2016 and ArabNews, 2015). Other examples are the known rise in factory work in China or jobs in the telecommunication industry in India where more suitable work places for women were created. Regarding India, there is an interesting change happening, namely that girls from lower castes catch up to girls from higher castes in the rate of being instructed in English. Munshi and Rosenzweig (2006) found out that lower castes girls are more likely to be educated in English compared to boys from lower castes. This has very intuitive and cultural based reason. Boys are expected to rely on the caste-system and its networks meaning the old-man and their life paths are somewhat pre-shaped by their culture and the social expectations. Girls however do not face such group expectations for the labour market and can therefore profit from English education and better marketplace opportunities. This change in human capital leads to a change in culture because it changes the bargaining situation within lower castes women and between women coming from different castes because the modern market usually does not differentiate between castes but rather between skills. Moreover, education changes the mind and makes people critical towards tradition.


Although these aspects concerning the modern market suggest that in modern economies women are expected to be treated equally, there is still a gap between several aspects in daily life and economic issues. Even in developed countries women still face a gender wage gap and receive less income for the same employment (Antonczyk, Fitzenberger and Sommerfeld, 2010). The perception of women being a mother and giving birth adds to this development. Another issue is prejudices about women being less skilled in mathematics and decision-making, for instance, that are also still common in the Western culture. Spencer, Steele and Quinn (1999) however show that this belief can come from a self-fulfilling prophecy rather than reality. Girls that were told to be worse than boys before an exam also performed worse. However, telling them that this test will be an exception from the expectation so that it will be equally difficult for girls and boys, the result shows no difference anymore.
Other evidence for culture shaping people’s opportunities and theirby their personality can be found in a study by Fernandez and Fogli (2005). The authors find out that the labour force participation and the fertility of women that are second generation immigrants in the United States rather correspond to their historic participation than to the local participation pattern in the US. Apparently, there is an adjustment phase that takes some generations until the culture from the ancestors is replaced.

But how can culture still influence our personalities towards inequality between men and women in modern labour markets? There are several channels (nudging, media, social expectations) that influence our mind and the decisions we take. Therefore, women should not doubt men only for the predominant inequality but also reflect own behaviour which is shaped by culture and role models. A transition towards equal treatment and payment is a long path where a cultural change is a pre-necessity.



Antonczyk, D., B. Fitzenberger, and K. Sommerfeld (2010): “Rising wage inequality, the decline of collective bargaining, and the gender wage gap,” Labour Economics, 17, 835–847.

Azmat, G. (2014): “Gender diversity in teams,” IZA World of Labor.

Costa, P. T., and R. R. McCrae (1992): NEO personality inventory-revised (NEO PI-R). Odessa, Fla.: Psychological Assessment Resources.

Duflo, E. (2011): Women’s Empowerment and Economic Development. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.

Ellison, S. F., and W. P. Mullin (2014): “Diversity, social goods provision, and performance in the firm,” Journal of economics & management strategy : JEMS, 23, 465–481.

Fernandez, R., and A. Fogli (2005): Culture: An Empirical Investigation of Beliefs, Work, and Fertility. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.

Hofstede, G. (2011): “Dimensionalizing Cultures,” Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 2, 1–26.

Khanna, R., A. Kumar, J. F. Vaghela, V. Sreenivas, and J. M. Puliyel (2003): “Community based retrospective study of sex in infant mortality in India,” BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 327, 126.

Munshi, K., and M. Rosenzweig (2006): “Traditional Institutions Meet the Modern World,” American Economic Review, 96, 1225–1252.

Spencer, S. J., C. M. Steele, and D. M. Quinn (1999): “Stereotype Threat and Women’s Math Performance,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 4–28.


ArabNews (2015): “Saudi Arabia to have four industrial cities for women,”, latest check 04/07/2016:

Halligan, Neil (2016): “New Saudi women-only business park to create 21,000 jobs,”, latest check 04/07/2016:

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2 thoughts on “How Culture Influences Personality and Gender Roles

  1. I would say that the point of a pay gap in developed countries is not convincing. Because how is it basically calculated? Authorities compare the annual salary of all men to the annual salary of all women regardless (!!) a job type or working hours. So basically it’s the same if we compare a salary of a software engineer with a nurse salary. It is the same to claim that if a man as a head of the company gains 50 million € and his personal female secretary only 50.000, the average employee salary is a bit more than 25 million €, which is not the case. My point is that we have to compare like to like jobs. What is more, if there is a wage gap, then why companies don’t reduce their expenditures by simply hiring only women?


    1. Hello Anna,

      I really appreciated that you left a command and that you were interested in my topic! Moreover it is very nice that you also had a look on the literature. You are right in your claim that comparaing same jobs would be ideal. The study in my references was a bit more focused on bargaing situations but sitll also using the average of income can show differences. I think that assuming man and woman are equally capable, there should on average be no significant differences in their earnings if there is no discrimination. However, I understand your point and therefore I looked for other studies to convince you. Please have a look on these sides:

      Click to access pay-inequality,property=pdf,bereich=bmfsfj,sprache=de,rwb=true.pdf$002fj$002fzfsoz.2005.34.issue-1$002fzfsoz-2005-0102$002fzfsoz-2005-0102.pdf/zfsoz-2005-0102.pdf?t:ac=j$002fzfsoz.2005.34.issue-1$002fzfsoz-2005-0102$002fzfsoz-2005-0102.xml


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